My top five healthcare predictions for 2021
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on January 13 2021.
I read a Forbes article[i] that described 2020 as the year in which “every company has had to become a tech company”, how true that statement is. COVID-19 challenged healthcare and pharma to see just how quickly they could embrace digital ways of working and as a result we have seen digital adoption rapidly accelerated in 2020, setting us up for success in 2021. Read on for my top five healthcare predictions for 2021:
1. 2021 will be a transformative year for vaccine distribution and deployment
In 2021 many more COVID-19 vaccines trials will be completed, and further vaccines will be pushed into mass production. Mapping technology such as geographic information system (GIS) mapping software can support vaccine distribution planning[ii] by calculating how many vaccines need to be delivered to a certain area, which location should take priority (care homes, for example) and ensure follow up vaccine doses are scheduled if needed
However, one question remains − is there enough trust in government, pharma and the scientific community for these vaccine programmes to truly take effect?
2021 is an opportunity for all healthcare stakeholders to work together in building trust in our shared purpose to fight this pandemic. A project currently underway with this objective is the Vaccine Confidence Project, which has already started using diagnostic tools to collect data on public concerns around vaccines. They have created a Vaccine Confidence Index as a tool for mapping confidence in vaccines globally, which will help with the design of immunisation programmes, strategic deployment, and the development of public engagement programmes to ensure enduring confidence in vaccines and immunisation. We have since long forgotten the devastating the impact of diseases such as polio before an effective vaccine had been developed.
2. Machine learning might stop new infectious outbreaks
Imagine how differently 2020 would have played out if we had been able to predict the pandemic and prepared for it. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the ability to make this a possibility, meaning we can avoid being caught out by an infectious outbreak again. Through AI we can process an enormous amount of medical and biological data from around the globe every second of every day, and together with machine learning, it can predict new viral strains before an outbreak surface. The learnings we have taken from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, together with the tools of AI and machine learning, mean we are better prepared than ever before to stop future outbreaks in their tracks.[iii], [iv]
3. Hybrid healthcare will improve clinical outcomes
Digital healthcare is here to stay. We won’t be going back to our old ways pre-COVID-19, where most patient interactions were done face-to-face.
Many virtual care offerings have made processes more efficient and accessible in the last year, including telehealth and telemedicine, which allow patients and doctors to have remote conversations through video or mobile apps, without compromising quality of care. This also means that while the financial burden healthcare systems struggle with is not going away any time soon, digital tools will help streamline processes in healthcare which could produce cost savings in 2021 and beyond.
4. The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) will improve patients’ lives and healthcare synergies
The IoMT is made up of a network of devices connected to each other through the internet, which collect data in real-time. Healthcare contributed up to 30% of IoT use in 2020, with over 30 billion [v] IoMT devices in use. 4 Smartwatches, implantable devices and automated home help systems for the elderly are only a few of the technologies which are rapidly growing in their use. IoMT provides healthcare systems with valuable information to improve patients’ lives and healthcare synergies and will continue to be a crucial asset in 2021.
5. Technology will help us stop a mental health crisis
We need to avoid going from a pandemic crisis to a mental health crisis. Research institutions such as MIT and Harvard University have already started to use machine learning to track trends in mental health on the internet in correlation to the pandemic and we will continue to see an increase in demand for mental health services once we are over the current emergency.
The sacrifices that have been made to stem the pandemic have led many to feel close to breaking point. We are experiencing bereavement without being able to grieve, and anxieties about our current and future situation. During 2021 is it thought that one third of virtual care appointments will be related to mental health issues. 1 We need to stop this mental health pandemic in its tracks. We must continue to raise awareness on this issue, with social media campaigns such as the Janssen’s Breaking Depression campaign, letting people know that they are not alone and provide them with resources that can help. While treatment will continue to move in the direction of personalized health care and precision medicine, the importance of public health will be reemphasized and receive more attention. A best of both of worlds in my view.
Of course, fighting COVID-19 is still at the top of the list of priorities for healthcare as we start the year, and there will continue to be many uncertainties in the coming months. One thing I am certain of – whatever comes our way next, collaboration and partnerships between healthcare, pharma, the public and scientists will all come together with the use of technology.
[i] The 5 Biggest Healthcare Trends In 2021 Everyone Should Be Ready For Today. Forbes; published 23 Nov 2020. Accessed 25 November 2020. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2020/11/23/the-5-biggest-health...
[ii] How mapping technology and location intelligence will help COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Fierce; published 20 Nov 2020. Accessed 25 November 2020. Available at: https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/tech/how-gis-mapping-and-location-intel...
[iii] Coronavirus: The role of AI in the ‘war’ against epidemics and pandemics. Computer weekly; published 2 Apr 2020. Accessed 25 November 2020. Available at: https://www.computerweekly.com/feature/Coronavirus-the-role-of-AI-in-the...
[iv] Technology trends in healthcare in 2021: The rise of AI. Mobidev; published 10 Aug 2020. Accessed 25 November 2020. Available at: https://mobidev.biz/blog/technology-trends-healthcare-digital-transforma...
[v] Internet of Medical Things - Forecast to 2021. Research and markets; published June 2017. Accessed 25 November 2020. Available at: https://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/4311470/internet-of-medical-t...